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Everything comes together according to plan for Bauer

Beth Bauer is happy with her new life as she becomes a contender on the LPGA Tour.

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 24, 2002

WEST PALM BEACH -- Golf has taken Beth Bauer all over the world in her rookie year on the LPGA Tour. To Scotland, Japan and South Korea, to five-star golf resorts in the United States.

This weekend, she has taken up residence at Mar-Lago, Donald Trump's ultra-exclusive club in Palm Beach, where the real estate magnate lavishes the LPGA's best while they play in the season-ending ADT Championship. She is tied for 11th at 1 over par going into today's final round at the Trump International Golf Club.

For Bauer, the ornate, luxurious accommodations are a long way from the Motel 6s and Super 8s of the Futures Tour and an amateur career filled with cost-conscious trips across the country with her mother, Chris.

Bauer, the Tampa Bay area's longtime golf prodigy, has seen her status as a pro golfer take a similar step up in class.

The LPGA's rookie of the year for 2002, Bauer, 22, has established herself as one of the game's up-and-coming players, posting 14 top-20 finishes and earning $460,659 to rank 19th on the money list.

"As far as American players go, she's probably the most talented that I've seen come out in the years I've been out here, and at the age she is," said Australia's Karrie Webb, who at 28 has qualified for the LPGA Hall of Fame.

"I really like Beth. I've played quite a bit of golf with her this year. She's very talented, and has the game to be a very good player out here. She has a very good head on her shoulders. She's very humble and very respectful.

"She knows how good she is, but she doesn't have to let everyone know how good she is. She goes about her business, works very hard and the results have paid off. I don't have enough good things to say about her."

Good luck trying to find any negatives about Bauer, who turns down autograph requests about as often as she fails to greet strangers with a smile, which seemingly is never.

Bauer has had plenty to be happy about during her first season. She won the LPGA's rookie honor over Natalie Gulbis and missed just three cuts in 26 events. Starting at the U.S. Women's Open in July, Bauer had a stretch of 10 tournaments in which she finished out of the top 20 once, including four consecutive top 10s. Her best finish was second at the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic.

Off the course, Bauer added to an impressive endorsement portfolio that includes Cleveland Golf, Tommy Hilfiger, Rolex and Dasani. The December issue of Golf Digest has her giving her first tip as one of the magazine's playing editors. And she represents the Eagles Golf Club in Odessa, where recently she closed on a four-bedroom house on the first hole of the Forest course.

It has been some year.

"The whole experience has been awesome," she said. "I really don't know how to describe it. I feel I can win out here. After playing with the girls half the year, I felt there was no reason I couldn't compete out here or be on top of the leaderboard when Sunday comes around."

Bauer is following the plan her father laid out. John Bauer, a career club professional, introduced her to the game at age 3 when he worked at Airco in Clearwater. Later, he became the general manager of Summerfield Golf Club, where Beth's game blossomed.

But in 1994, when Beth was 14, John Bauer died three weeks after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a central nervous system disorder that typically is not fatal.

Beth, who calls John Bauer "my forever golf idol," continued on a path to greatness.

She won a state title at Bloomingdale High, 17 American Junior Golf Association titles and several amateur championships. After accepting a scholarship offer to Duke, where she played on an NCAA championship team, Bauer left after her sophomore year, only to fail at the LPGA Tour Qualifying Tournament in the fall of 2000.

That turned out to be a good thing. Bauer won four times on the minor-league circuit in 2001 and set a single-season earnings record with more than $84,000. Her top-three finish assured her a spot on the LPGA Tour this year.

"I think that was one of the best things for her," Webb said. "I wonder if she had gotten her card the first time she went to qualifying school if she would have been as successful her rookie year, which would have been last year. She probably learned a lot about herself and professional golf playing the Futures Tour."

There were some growing pains, however. Bauer needed nine tournaments to post a top 10, and that came after three consecutive missed cuts. She was getting used to the travel and the idea of having a full-time caddie, whom she hired at the end of last year. Doug Matteson, a veteran of the and LPGA tours, met Bauer through her former boyfriend, Ryuji Imada, who played on the Tour last year.

Bauer and Matteson have formed a good team, but not without a few rocky moments.

"I was pushing her a little too hard at first to be aggressive and take shots at the pin," Matteson said. "She ... still does generally have a conservative approach to the game, which is to hit it to the front of the green and make a putt from there. That's really good advice for a young player and that's how her dad taught her to play.

"I tried to teach her that she could be very successful out here playing that type of strategy. But in order to win out here, she had to be a little more aggressive. You can par all day long out here and do fine. But to win golf tournaments, you have to shoot 15- or 16-under par. That's where the learning curve took place."

Judy Rankin, an LPGA Hall of Famer who works as a golf analyst for ABC and ESPN, followed Bauer's amateur career and wondered if she had what it took to succeed, especially in the area of physical strength.

"I think going to the Futures Tour kind of toughened her up a little bit," Rankin said. "And then she's played more golf than she ever imagined a person could play since then. You develop some strength. I think she's learned from playing with these people. She's very consistent.

"After you have that mastered, you have to find a way to have those few explosive weeks. That's the next step. She has contended. The first step is to contend more and more often. Then you have to sneak in there some week or win big. Then you're on your way.

"But she's 22. She's so young. It's all new and interesting. I think she's in a real happy spot with playing the tour right now. I see nothing but things getting better for her."

Just to make sure, however, Bauer has hired a personal trainer to work with three days a week during the offseason. She also is in the market for a top instructor; since her father's death, Bauer has not had a true golf teacher.

Bauer's big goal is to improve her greens in regulation (she ranked 35th, hitting 65.9 percent). "I think that's why Annika (Sorenstam) dominates," Bauer said. "It's easy to make birdies when she hits 20 percent more than me." Sorenstam led the tour at 79.9 percent.

If there was a downside to her first year on tour, Bauer said it was loneliness. "It'shard every day to go home to an empty hotel room, nobody to talk to," she said.

Chris Bauer, who used to travel everywhere with Beth, decided to return to Tampa halfway through the season. "She has to have a life, and I have to have a life," Chris Bauer said. "It was something we had planned on. I will pick and choose them. And if she has a chance to win, I'll be there."

After today, the opportunity won't come again until February, when Bauer will travel to Australia to play in two tournaments before the LPGA schedule begins in March.

She'll fill the time by decorating and furnishing her new house, working on her game and yearning to get back on tour.

"I'm at this point in my life where I just really love the game," Bauer said. "When I start seeing stuff like this year, seeing the rewards of playing well, the hard work paying off, it makes me want to work harder. I want to keep playing."

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